Thursday, November 11, 2004

Rediscovering The Web

This couldn’t have been timed better. I have been thinking of inviting some guest author on my site, so that we can have other perspectives on topics of common interests. As though timed perfectly, a regular reader volunteered to write in about her experiences on switching to Firefox. And just two days ago, the Firefox community launched version 1.0 of the browser. Perfect timing.

Without further ado, let’s hear it for Shilpa – a regular home-computer user, not a geek – on her experiences on switching to Firefox.

Rediscovering The Web

I started using the computer exactly fourteen months ago. Up until then, to me, computers were gadgets used by crazy people who didn't want to read books or use a piece of paper and a pen like God surely intended us all to do. I struggled manfully with seemingly simple, so called 'user friendly' operations, and gave up asking people questions. Computer terms baffled me more and I usually ended up feeling more confused and foolish than I did before. My entire experience of using computers to do research, download information or even communicate with other people was strictly a trial and error affair - a major trial and endless errors.

The early days

At that point of time all I knew was that when you need to "browse" for information you click on the little blue 'e' logo. Then, you keep your fingers crossed and hope that your computer doesn't hang, or crash, especially after you wasted an hour finding the pages you were looking for. Surfing necessarily involved the frustrating routine of dealing with annoying pop-ups that seemed to have a will of their own. I remember waiting endlessly for pages to load up while I cleaned cupboards or filed nails (now that's a very slight exaggeration, but you get the drift).

Sometimes I even got conned by some very genuine sounding pop-ups that declared me to be the lucky 100th browser (yeah, I fell for it), endangering my computer to the omnipresent threat of viruses and ad-ware invasions. I began to assume, mostly from painful mistakes and serious consequences, that one should not click on unknown links when browsing the web. The Internet now seemed like a dark and dangerous world of creepy crawly insects that would munch on something inside the machine and gnaw away at my computer piece by piece. Hence browsing was something I did when I could not collect the information I wanted from books in the local library or when circumstances left me with little or no choice but to knock on the proverbial door of disaster or in this particular case 'window to hell'. This went on for almost a year!

I never even dreamt that there might be alternatives to the browser I was currently using or that my browsing experience could be any different. None of my so called computer savvy friends ever told me that I had other choices or that I was suffering from the "bad browser syndrome". I was sailing in the same boat of ignorant bliss about the choices available to people about browsers.

Shifting to Firefox

Two months ago, I learnt about Firefox from a friend, who had patiently been initiating me to the world of computers. In one of our "geek-is-not-completely-Greek" sessions he found out that I was using Internet Explorer as my browser. He helpfully suggested that I should download Firefox, after unsuccessfully disguising his horror when I told him how I still juggled so many windows and then even more windows (read that as pop-ups) every time I surfed. "Haven't you heard of tabbed browsing, woman!” he exclaimed. I miserably wondered WTF 'tabbed' was. Rather than further embarrassing myself by displaying my ignorance I decided to download Firefox, install and configure it as my default browser. I was ready to try anything at this point of time to make my browsing life easier.

If you are expecting a sudden revolution with angels playing harps in the background then you couldn't be more wrong. Initially I didn't even notice any change as I didn't really bother to read information about Firefox as any good novice should (I hate reading instruction manuals too!). Yes, I couldn't help but notice that the download was quick and painless, the instructions to install it were easy and even a simpleton like me managed to import all my bookmarks with gleeful ease. Even so, I didn't really shout with joy.

I was already so used to tuning out the irritating pop-ups while I was using Internet Explorer for a year that I failed to notice their sudden disappearance. I was still blank about tabbed browsing. Only much later did I realize that I could open multiple sites on the same window, minimizing the chaos in my mind and reducing the crazy confusion on my screen.

The only thing that first impressed me was the tool bar. Instead of a multitude of confusing bars, which seemed to take unnecessary space on my screen and confuse my mind, I now had to operate a simpler tool bar with very useful tools. Tools which I could relate to and actually use - for example, the Google search built into the tool bar and – were just a simple click away.

But like all good things usually are taken for granted I just took all these features at face value and didn't really gush about Firefox or its cool features. As for the frequent crashes (which had now minimized without me noticing it much), I had already managed to blame it on the guy who sold me the computer anyway. So, though life seemed vaguely easier, I had no particular fondness for Firefox, nor did I give it any credit. As for Internet Explorer, I conveniently dismissed it from my mind like a less than impressive boyfriend with bad breath one dates and forgets.

Then, after that...

One fine day (yeah, here's the twist I have been hinting at all the while) my computer conked off due to some problem with the memory chip, and I was given a substitute computer till my own one was out recovering fast. Getting used to the new PC was a pain. I automatically reached out for the little red icon to browse with and I realized with slight surprise and shock (but no particular dismay) that the only option I had was the blue Internet Explorer logo. Feeling too lazy to download a new browser on a temporary PC, I went ahead and used Internet Explorer to browse.

The first thing that rankled me were the pop-ups that seemed to, well, pop up at every nook and corner. I was so used to not seeing any pop ups at all while using Firefox that I became increasingly impatient with these annoying offers to fix my computer clock. Things started getting progressively more difficult as the evening wore on. I noticed that pages were taking longer to load. Browsing seemed to be taking on the now long forgotten, but once helplessly accepted touch of "nightmare on Browse Street" mode. I struggled with multiple windows alternately swatting pop ups. I found myself restarting my computer more often. The complex tool bar with no Google or dismayed my lazy soul, as did the not-so-efficient or easy-to-use bookmark manager.

Realization finally dawned on me, albeit belatedly, about what I had been missing out for one full year because of a less than efficient browser before I first experienced Firefox. I realize how foolish I had been not to download it immediately on my temporary PC. This disastrous date with Internet Explorer made me realize why the Firefox logo came with a "Rediscover the web" promise.

This time I downloaded Firefox not because a friend had shamed me into it, but because I realized from my very own experience how Firefox is a boon for the less than savvy computer users like me. Again, I experienced the smooth and quick download, almost automatic transfer of bookmarks as Firefox took over my browsing world in its now familiar competent and confident hand.

Ever since then I have started experimenting with all the additional features which I never bothered to notice earlier (I still don't read instruction manuals though!). Everyday I stumble upon features like a much more customizable tool bar, better text zooming, better looking web pages, live bookmarks, etc.

I am now a complete Firefox convert and I try to pass my experiences to as many friends and acquaintances as I can so that, like me, they achieve browsing nirvana by using a much smarter and secure browser like Firefox.

Which browser do you use? Did I tell you about Firefox already?


Jade said...

WTF? Due to ur constant nagging *wink*, I downloaded Firefox... but it's not installing properly! I guess u didn't have that problem, huh? This happened when I tried to download it about two weeks ago, too. Can u tell me wots wrong, Mr. Web Designer? :D Nothing's happening when I click Next. (Yes, I DID agree to the Terms of Whatnot.)
Help me... I want to check out this hot new software!

Dante said...

O'Bart is right. What you experienced with the harps and all is what I experienced with Opera. I can't imagine how I lived without it!

chris said...

Opera?? Please, opera is very buggy, especially with CSS. I don't even consider Opera bugs when I'm designing pages. Opera costs money (for the full version, with no ads). And RSS support? Not really, I've tried, but haven't been able to figure it out completely, although I seem to grasp stuff like PHP, MySQL, XHTML, and CSS quite well. Sage for Firefox is so much better.